Special to The Hawai‘i Herald
It was pretty funny the first time I met Harry Tsuchidana a couple of decades ago. It was for an interview for The Hawai‘i Herald. I knocked on the door of his apartment studio. It swung open and there was Harry, his mouth agape, eyes bulging out wildly as if he had seen a ghost.
I introduced myself. He kept staring at me until, finally, he invited me in. I just had to ask him why he was looking at me like a crazy man.
“Wait, wait . . .” he said, rummaging around his cramped and busy artist’s studio until he pulled out a photograph.
“You look just like Isami Doi!” he exclaimed. “I thought I was seeing a ghost!”
Indeed, the old photograph of the artistic mentor to a lot of local Nisei artists — his scraggly mustache and wire-rimmed glasses — did look like me. Well, sort of . . . when I was much younger and several pounds lighter.
Later, Tsuchidana told me that he called his friend and fellow artist, Satoru Abe, to tell him about me.
That’s the thing about 86-year-old Harry Tsuchidana and his artist’s eye. It’s like he can’t help himself. He keeps looking for visual patterns, similarities, recurring motifs in the wild disorder of everyday life. So a certain kind of face triggers something in his brain that sends it wildly creative. Or the way a door is shaped. Or the wildness of uncombed hair. It’s almost a kind of artistic Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. He has to work the visual stimuli all the way through to some kind of personal art.
I think that’s how a viewer should understand his new show, “Harry Tsuchidana: Works on Paper,” which continues through Oct. 5 at The Art Gallery at the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa. The show features 83 of Tsuchidana’s smaller works done on paper, which are mainly little studies for possibly bigger paintings — or simply studies for their own sake — in 17 groups based on themes.
You should take in the show like you are being given a glimpse into how Tsuchidana works a theme or concept over and over again, turning over a visual notion. In fact, the notes for the show quote him: “It’s all about the process, not about hitting the target. If you hit the target, you are lost.”
In other words, it’s really interesting to see where you go when you are meandering about, investigating a visual concept, discovering new things. If you “solve” it, then there’s nothing left to really wonder about. The journey can be the important part of a quest, not the end itself.
So, one day, Tsuchidana must have looked at a door and wondered: What is it about a door’s rectangular-ness that makes it a door? And he painted the door. He did another painting on paper of a door in a different composition. Then he abstracted the shape of the door and changed the composition again. What is it about a door’s shape that suggests that it is a door? What is a door? Where does it go? Does an open door suggest mystery, the start of a possibly perilous new journey? How does our mind process a rectangular shape in a flat wall space? Tsuchidana works those questions out visually, over and over again . . . until, perhaps, he stumbles upon another shape that pokes his eye and sets him on another quest.
. . . Like the time he kept staring at one of my friends until, finally, he had to blurt out, “Your hair!” My friend’s hair was really frizzy from a particularly hot and humid day and she had tied it up with a rubber band, but it was still wild and unkempt. Harry loved that hair. He loves wild and crazy lines, so I laughed when I saw a set of paintings of squiggly black lines, which resembled long, fat and fuzzy black caterpillars. Where I saw frizzy hair, Tsuchidana saw vigorous lines that were seething and full of life.
The show reminds us to pay attention to the visual wonder of everyday life. Take a line, a shape, a pattern, and let your eyes and mind play with it, absorb it and recreate it, and you end up with endless delight, as Harry Tsuchidana does, or as we can enjoy it through his art and his eyes.
“Harry Tsuchidana: Works on Paper,” continues through Friday, Oct. 5, at The Art Gallery in the University of Hawai‘i at Mänoa Art Building. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is free. Parking on upper campus is free on Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.
Wayne Muromoto is a former Hawai‘i Herald staff writer. He also spent 10 years teaching art and digital art at a private high school. For the past 15 years, he has been teaching digital art and digital photography at Leeward Community College. Wayne also continues to pursue peace through a bowl of tea as a practitioner of Urasenke tea ceremony.